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Bus strike thoughts

Our transport agencies and media spent much of the last week working themselves up about the strike by bus drivers affecting around 70% of Auckland’s buses. Traffic would be terrible they said, it’s going to be carmageddon.

Then Friday turned up, the bus drivers went on strike and for many the opposite happened.

Auckland has survived the first hurdle of the bus drivers’ strike with commuters reporting “dream runs” and lighter than usual traffic thanks to many opting to walk or take alternative forms of transport.

Of course this immediately led to calls from some to ban buses permanently.

Ludy Colenbrander drove from Mission Bay to Albany and said he arrived in record time because it seemed there were no buses “to clog up the roads”.

Matt Hancock said it was a “wonderful day on the roads” this morning. He rides a motorbike and his wife drives a car and both noted traffic was lighter than usual.

“We didn’t use the motorway, but if a bus strike can clear the roads of Ellerslie, Remuera, Newmarket, Mt Wellington, Kohimarama, and Grafton I suggest a ‘bus free day’ once a week for Auckland?” .

This was all actually fairly predictable and I had even said to some journalists earlier in the week that this response is exactly what would happen.

The reason of course is that the whole point of talking up carmageddon was to get people to change behaviour. It’s a tactic that’s been used all around the world to manage disruption. Some of the most notable have been in LA when they’ve needed to close freeways for major works. Perhaps the aspect that surprised me the most wasn’t that we saw people calling for buses to be removed permanently but just how well our media reported it, like in the first quote making it clear that the free flow conditions were a result of people changing behaviour.

But while the bus strike was hopefully a one off, I think it probably provides some really useful information for the agencies planning and running our transport system as well as exercises like ATAP.

On Friday the NZTA were reporting that traffic built up earlier than normal and lasted for longer but was less severe. It’s not a fully fair comparison though as it appears that a lot of people took one off leave but many others worked from home. It’s not clear whether they could do this on a regular basis but in many ways the outcome is exactly what we would expect to see with a road pricing system that charged more during more congested periods to deliver behaviour change.

This is all quite interesting timing seeing as ATAP will be considering road pricing as a demand management tool (as opposed to a pure revenue gathering one).

Also on the bus strike, it was interesting to see reports of police officers enforcing bus lanes. I don’t think I’ve heard of them doing that before. Those on bikes reported it being surprisingly pleasant to ride on.

From some reports the afternoon congestion was much worse than the morning congestion. Perhaps having good runs in the morning people were lulled into a false sense of security about congestion and all tried to travel home at the same time.

Overall it seemed Auckland coped fairly well but that might not be the case if the disruption became a regular event or lasted for multiple days

39 comments to Bus strike thoughts

  • Don’t read the letters page of the Herald. Facepalm material.

  • Alex F

    Just goes to show how naive people can be. Buses are not the cause of congestion, in fact far from it. People in cars (and notably single occupant cars) are the primary problem. The roads flowed better than normal due to the hysteria the bus strike caused to encourage as many as possible to avoid travel and thus changed their behaviour. At my office there were very few people in on Friday, most had taken leave for the day or worked from home – this is also a work environment that has a high number of people who drive to work. I took the train. Banning buses is not a solution as this change of behaviour isn’t sustainable in the long term and commuters would resort to getting back into cars.

  • Git

    Hold up. This isn’t a question of opinion (from either side) and the citation of the LA anecdote is largely meaningless. Objectively we can say that there are three possible options. 1) People stayed home, changed behaviour 2) Buses cause an awful amount of congestion 3) A combination of 1 & 2. I think that this blog needs to be aware of taking a belief based, dogmatic position on this question. As do those on the other side of the ledger.

    It would be quite simple for AT to conduct a telephone poll of a reasonable sample (say 1000 people) that may aid in answering this question. Before any such data occurs to presumptuous make a claim either way.

    • Sorry, anyone who genuinely believes that buses – taking maybe 50 odd extra cars off the road EACH – cause more congestion than they removes really must be putting their ideology ahead of common sense.

    • Nigel Owen

      For the idea that buses cause congestion to have any merit there needs to be evidence of a causal link. What we have from Friday is only the observation that reduced congestion happened. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a change in behaviour does in fact lead to changed outcomes in regards to congestion.
      On the other hand I am not aware of any evidence that buses cause congestion. The circumstantial evidence of Friday doesn’t indicate that buses cause congestion any more than that the calculator on my desk repels tigers because I have never seen a tiger within the vicinity of my calculator.

      • Git

        Computer simulations can demonstrate this. It is at least possible that buses pulling into/out of traffic would have massive downstream effects to traffic flows.

        On a related issue, someone ran a simulation on some of the Link buses: You know how none come for ages, and then you get two-three all at once. Basically, the simulation showed that this is an entirely predictable/inevitable outcome of traffic behavior etc. Just the same, as a single person braking heavily on a motorway, can cause problems as this breaking behavior ripples through the following vehicles (for kilometers I believe)

        • Nick

          Of course buses stopping and pulling out into traffic etc causes delays for other road users. But you can’t look at that in isolation. The question is are these delays greater than would be caused by the 50 extra cars on the road were all those bus passengers to drive. It seems pretty obvious what the answer to that would be.

        • And yet a lot of buses on the most congested parts of the network have their own lanes so them pulling away from a bus stop doesn’t have any impact on the cars making up traffic in other lanes.

        • mfwic

          You don’t need a computer to simulate two buses arriving at once. The logic of that has been understood for years. They start at even intervals, a small random change slows one slightly (say a red light). Because it is taking longer then there is more time for passengers to arrive at the stops so that bus then takes longer at each stop for boarding which means even more passengers at the next stop and more delay. The following bus now has a smaller headway or time from the bus in front so it takes less time at each stop for boarding and it catches up.

          • It’s a major problem with looped services where there is no set start or end of the route to allow for layover and the timetable to adhered to. The only other solution is what we have with annoying timed stops mid route where the bus will sometimes sit for minutes on end. This is also the reason why the circle line in London was broken open.

    • Nigel Owen

      The idea of the survey does have merit. It could be a good opportunity to find out some useful information for transport planning.
      They could ask some along the lines of:
      Did you make a change in your regular travel plans?
      If yes what did you change?: worked form home/took day off, left at a different time, took a different mode of transport e.g. train, ferry, cycling, walking.
      Would you consider making this change again? why/why not?
      How likely are you to consider making this a regular change to your transport habits?

      It could give an indication of people’s flexibility/willingness to try different options

      • Git

        Yeah I agree. Another possibility is that people car-pooled. A question that follows is why don’t you car pool all the time etc?

  • “It’s not a fully fair comparison though as it appears that a lot of people took one off leave but many others worked from home.”
    Appears? Is there any data, or is this anecdotal?
    BTW – the ‘modern’ news media is all about the beat up now, it seems. If a cyclone is forecast we are assailed with dire warnings to batten down the hatches and prepare for homes to be swept away and massive loss of life. When the cyclone fails to eventuate the media then run stories about the storm that never happened and questions the prowess of the Met Service. If the cyclone switched course we get the media telling us we dodged a bullet…
    So I’m not surprised that if some bus drivers go on strike the media will give us dire warnings about the looming ‘carmageddon’, and then about the carmageddon that wasn’t. Older readers might remember the days when the media would have focussed on why the bus drivers were striking, and why the bus company wouldn’t/couldn’t pay them more….

    • Martin v

      My city office was about 50-60% full, rather than usual 80-90% full. We have around 1000 desk spaces, so 300 or so not commuting on Fri.

      Mt Eden Rd morning rush hour traffic was normal. I’m on a scooter (in dry weather) so can keep up with the buses in the bus lanes, but must have been nice for cyclists not having buses squeeze past them on the uphill sections.

    • Grant

      General media’s aim is to sell news / news papers & the advertising that goes with it, hence the stories we get. If the headline doesn’t grab attention 50% are unlikely to read it (that was a figure pulled out of my hat).

  • mfwic

    It’s called “post hoc ergo propter hoc”. Because it follows it must be caused by. Or sometimes shortened to the post hoc fallacy.

  • DavidByrne

    What’s the latest on the future strikes? Originally there was talk of a strike on Friday in Week 1, Thu/Fri in Week 2, Wed/Thu/Fri in Week 3 and so on until there was a strike on all weekdays in Week 5. Have heard nothing since, though – hope this means that there won’t be one (or two) days of strikes this week . . . ?

  • Pete

    I walked along Queen Street at lunchtime on Friday and it was a beautiful, quiet, smog reduced place without buses. Not having a bus up my chuff in the bus lanes as I cycled in was a bonus too.

    • Jon

      I completely agree. Working in Britomart on Friday and walking around town was the most amazing experience and truely made be feel in love with being outside in town. The quietness of the streets and the fresh air from the lack of diesel engines running was not something I’d seen before. In fact everyone I spoke to about this agreed with me.

      I am not against buses but do believe we should be looking at smarter options. There are far too many buses moving around the CBD during the day and the contrast between having them there and not there is polar opposite – I know which I’d prefer.

      • Anthony

        I cycled through the CBD, up & down queen st, all good except the two cars that didn‘t give way to me at the Queen / K Rd intersection.
        Earlier in the day my cycle into town was more dangerous than usual due to the free flowing 50km/hr traffic. I wasn‘t able to pull into the middle of the a 4 lane road and turn right, which is normally easy as cars are typically near stationary.
        I had two cars pull out into the bus lane and stop right in front of me, in an attempt to join a queue of cars held up be traffic lights. I couldn‘t have stopped in either incident, and jumped onto the footpath.
        A third car pulled out from a side road and stopped halfblocking the lane when it saw me.
        5 cars in 1 day is a bad day for me. Bring back the traffic.

  • earle howe

    There was a picket outside the H & E Depot on Ti Rakau Drive during the strike. I counted 10 cars parked along the footpath, off the very busy road. Presumably the striking drivers were not able to park in the depot while not at work. But what about pedestrians trying to get where they needed to go? A 50-100 meter detour around the picketers was not possible. (depot fence one side, fast traffic the other side)

    I also think that the strikers are trying to prove a point (what it is very unclear!) ahead of the completion of new contract negotiations. But it seems counterproductive.

    • Ted F

      earle have you ever thought of the average bus drivers working day?
      Imagine the 4 hour break in the middle of your working day to be spent every working day in the CBD.
      Broken shifts and realistic take home pay is what the strike is about.
      From the employers point of view they wish to retain the system and extend it and sign the drivers on individual contracts so they can dismantle the system still further.

      • earle howe

        I have no problems with workers in any job seeking better conditions if the circumstances warrant it. But strike action is not the way to go. NZ Bus has a very good track record of improving conditions in negotiation with the Unions, which is why their conditions are far better than other companies.

  • I am absolutely certain that lack of buses did not cause reduced congesion, 8-). However, as a purely personal comment, I really hate visiting britomart because of the huge diesel noise and smell. the throbbing does reverberate. There are electric buses internationally; any chance of making the case here?

    • Dave B (Wellington)

      Wellington is due to have a surplus trolleybus system in 2017. Perhaps Auckland should make a grab for the wires and the buses and set up its own electric bus system. On the back of Wellington’s idiotic decision to remove them.

  • Scott

    Anybody else notice the Air Quality in the city was way better on Friday?

    I’m starting to think that having hundreds of diesel buses in the CBD isn’t such a good idea.

  • Waspman

    Yes the media. The Mix reported at about 8.20 am that it was “Gridlock”on Auckland’s roads or motorways, with me on those roads having got to the CBD in record time for a Friday as if it were off peak volumes. I wondered if they simply just make up their traffic updates?

    Afternoon though was different with the southern motorway queue starting at the Victoria Park viaduct at about 2.00 pm and very heavy all the way past Mt Wellington (where I gave up).

  • Lti

    Buses are extraordinarily loud. They must be the loudest things in the road. Many roads are much more pleasant without them. If rather watch motionless cars stuck in gridlock than have the roar of the buses.

    • Pete

      They are awful. The air dump valve is probably the worst, I have no idea if its supposed to be that loud but I’m sure it wouldn’t pass an OSH inspection.

  • It is always predictable after the fact 🙂

    I found some interesting papers on how certain bus stops cause congestion.

    http://www.rciti.unsw.edu.au/sites/rciti/files/u48/05_2014_Chand_Chandra_Dhamaniya.pdf
    “The reduction in capacity due to a bus stop was found to be in the range of 8 to 13 percent.”

    That’s up to a 1000 buses at peak time not using bus stops, moving slowly through traffic lights, merging in/out of traffic flows etc

  • Ari

    I’m sure google could analyse all the travel time data they steal from our phones to tell us if congestion really was better or worse on friday. Personally I thought traffic was worse than usual. It took twice as long to get to work than normal for me.